Tuesday morning I awoke to cold rain pelting my window panes. The alarm clock screamed “beep, beep, beep!” while every bone in my body fought to stay under the covers. Given I needed an income, the alarm clock won. I shuffled out of bed and threw on my hooded sweat shirt, pants, and slippers. My dog and I bravely stepped into the rain. Fortunately, he took “go potty” seriously and then we ran for cover.
I executed my morning routine. I tamed my humidity ravaged hair into a cute beachy look and stepped out the door. . . only to realize my car and house keys were sitting in my coat pocket. I was not wearing this coat. )= Fortunately, my landlord placed a key lock box outside my apartment. I quickly manipulated the combination while the rain turned my beachy coiffure into that of Albert Einstein’s.
I hopped into my car only five minutes behind schedule. Woohoo! I hit a traffic jam five minutes into my commute. I called my scheduler and explained my dilemma. I also inquired if I was scheduled back-to-back. She hesitated, “yes, but I am sure it will all work out.” I pulled up to the clinic at 7:58 am only to discover there was no available parking in the provider lot. Fortunately, there was plenty of street parking. I pulled along the curb and saw the NO PARKING on 2nd and 4th Tuesdays for street sweeping. I checked my calendar. Damn, it was a fourth Tuesday. I circled the block several times with no luck. I called my scheduler and explained my dilemma. She recommended I pull into our lot and just block someone until lunch time. She also volunteered to stand outside (in the rain no less) to direct me into the lot. I pulled up to the lot to find her and two medical assistants ushering me in and holding the door open as I ran to my office.
I encountered my patient in the lobby. I apologized profusely for being late. I set all my bags down as I quickly unlocked my door and flipped on my lights and computer. My patient kindly carried in my bags. All was well. My second patient did not show, so I had several minutes before my next patient. I walked out and my colleague offered to pick up my new patient if I got backed up. She also told me she brought in donuts. I exhaled, hugged her, and picked up a donut. All was well.
What random act of kindness can you offer during this season of giving? Sometimes a parking space or a donut can make all the difference.
I grew up in a modest home. My parents worked extremely hard. We always had food on the table, clothes on our back, and a roof over our heads. However, name brands, family vacations, and eating out were rarities. In between 40 hour work weeks, my parents volunteered their time to good causes. They reminded my sister and me of our blessings. When we complained that “EVERYONE has Guess jeans”, they reminded us, “Many people have it much worse than you.” As a teenager who desperately wanted the coveted red question mark on my derriere, I lost sight of my blessings. My parents’ love and sacrifices allowed me to go to college. My experiences there gave me the confidence to pursue graduate school. Now I live in one of the most beautiful and expensive cities in the country, and I work in a clinic that sees some of the poorest people who inhabit it.
On a daily basis, I hear stories of remarkable individuals dealt incredibly unfair hands . . . illness, businesses failing, trauma . . . which left them without a family, shelter, and/or money to cover basic needs. Food stamps do not cover razors or feminine products. I frequently ask, “Given everything you’ve endured, what keeps you going?” Their responses humble me . . . “God, my children, my dog, hope it’s got to get better, others have it worse than I do.”
Last night I appreciated the warmth of my down comforter given the plummeting temperature. I thought of my patients who lacked a warm bed to sleep in. It filled me with sadness and fear. I quickly attempted to expunge this thought. Privilege allows one to do that . . .change the channel, look straight ahead when someone is panhandling, and overlook the sociopolitical structures which perpetuate inequality in our society.
I recognize that I have to stand in the discomfort of privilege. Then, ask myself, “What I can do in my corner of the world to level the playing field a bit?” What can you do?
My massage therapist commented that I twist my right arm whenever she moves it. She questioned the origin of this tendency. During the height of my swim conditioning, I short-armed my right free style stroke. My coach instructed me to pull my arm through completely before exiting the water. This adjustment improved my speed and efficiency. For a few workouts I decelerated and concentrated on pulling through. However, I found it tedious, and it slowed me down tremendously. Additionally, as I fatigued I returned to short-arming. I shared this story with my massage therapist, and she commented, “Maybe you’re protecting something.” She asked if I had a past injury. Prior to swimming, I spent several years rock climbing and pushing my body in ways you can in your late 20’s and early 30’s. I likely sustained an injury.
My response to this physical injury mimics a psychological injury. Often times we compensate to avoid pain and keep moving forward. However, this coping style eventually short changes us when we can no longer progress with ease and efficiency. We are frequently unaware of this protective mechanism until we enter relationships, and others identify it. Once this compensatory strategy enters our awareness slowing down and addressing it proves challenging. We feel pulled into our old habit particularly during times of stress and fatigue. However, if we slow down and address the injury, we start moving with greater fluidity and ease.
Admittedly, when I dive into the pool, I’m tempted to bullet through the water like a torpedo. Then, I hear my healthy self, “you’re short-arming . . . pull through the entire stroke . . . don’t get in a hurry.” I may resemble Esther Williams. However, my right arm propels me further if I can resist exiting at the point of discomfort.
Where in your life are you emotional short-arming? How can you leave your arm in the water a bit longer when it feels uncomfortable?
After years of driving past The Cave of Wonders, curiosity pulled me in. I stepped inside and magnificent gems encircled me. A sweet caramel and white pitbull named Bella shadowed me as I perused the stones. I showed Bella a black, shiny piece of tourmaline and explained its energy-absorbing properties. She sniffed and licked my hand, confirming my selection. I picked up a piece of smooth, rose quartz and felt its coolness and weight in my hand. The bin’s placard announced that it decreased stress and brought love into one’s life. Sign me up for that! I added it to my growing collection and continued browsing. Bella grew bored of examining my treasures and parked herself in the front entrance to greet unsuspecting humans.
When my stone collection overflowed the reaches of my palm, I decided to check out. I had gems to help me grieve, avoid negative energy and stress, and bring love and prosperity into my life. Yep, I was covered in the happy life department now. The shop owner handed me a complimentary marble-sized garnet – the stone of the week. He gave me a handout describing its properties and meanings. Garnet brings successful business, cures depression, makes a person popular, adds constancy to friendships, increases security level, cleanses and purifies and increases sex drive. I hit the jackpot! Now I could start a successful business, be happy, popular, confident, clear negative energy and be a sex goddess!
While the garnet claims appeared exaggerated, I think we all hope at times that one special thing or person can provide fulfillment, safety, and happiness. We all have experiences in which we wish a garnet could cure all our troubles. Simple fixes are attractive but no replacement to feeling our way through life. I keep the garnet in my purse to remind me of this fact. If life hands me a lesson, and I choose not to accept the challenge, it comes around again. The times I find myself wishing for a “garnet fix” are typically the times I want to avoid painful emotions.
Where in your life do you find yourself wishing for the garnet fix? What do you need to feel your way through?
A few days ago I visited the farmer’s market near my office. The market lies in the heart of a working class Asian and Latino neighborhood. I enjoy strolling through the market while hearing the tonal languages of Vietnamese and Lao punctuate the air as the romance language of Spanish dances in between. I’m a bit of an oddity given I’m a fair-skinned red head in business casual attire. After filling my bags with figs, nectarines, and squash, I head straight to the pupusa stand. If you’ve never had this Salvadorian fare, it’s like heaven in a homemade, corn fried tortilla severed with a side of cabbage salad. I love mine stuffed with cheese and spinach. The stand owner enthusiastically greets me, “¡Buenas dias! . . . ¿Espinachas y queso?” I reply with an enthusiastic, “¡Si!” (You correctly surmised I visit this stand regularly.)
After receiving my piping hot pupusa, I settle in at one of the three rickety card tables which constitute the dining area. It’s a perfect people-watching point. My eyes meet a diminutive, elderly, Asian man who stands about 5 feet tall. His face resembles weathered leather and his eyes twinkle. I smile. He approaches me and hands me a rubber ball with a globe printed on it. It fits in the palm of my hand. Between the mixture of English and Khmer and his missing teeth, I decipher, “For you!” I thank him, and ask if he would like some money. He places his hand on my shoulder, proceeds in Khmer and ends with “gift.” I grin and thank him. He explains I can use the ball to indicate to others where I come from. Then, he shows me his migration from Cambodia to the eastern United States. Through wild hand gestures and rapid changes in intonation, I learn that his boat sank on the voyage, and his wife died. I say, “You had an incredibly painful and difficult journey.” He nods and averts my gaze. However, he quickly grins and continues speaking. He points to California and says, “You here, and I’m here.” I beam and reply, “Yes, we are!” Then, I proceed to show him Hawaii and explain I was born there. I illustrate my journey from Hawaii to Georgia to Texas to California. He laughs and smiles, “now, you here!” I joyfully agree, “Yes, I’m here!”
Often times, our minds resemble energetic puppies who want to be anywhere but Here. The ball reminds me that Here is where the magic happens. Here is where we can have glorious, even if only brief, moments when we feel completely seen and in connection with another person. Where are you right now? Be Here.
This morning I received an exasperating email from a dear friend. She volunteered to help with her children’s school popcorn fundraiser. Her initial commitment involved collecting and counting money but quickly evolved to managing every aspect of this endeavor. She repeatedly reached out to other parents for assistance, including the PTA president. . .Crickets. . .Instead she received phone calls and email inquiries about when and where to pick up the popcorn. She felt tempted to reply, “go pop your own f’ing popcorn. I’m done!” Knowing my friend, she likely replied with something kinder after she concocted a revenge fantasy of pelting apathetic parents with popcorn.
Several years ago I received a lucrative contract to help an agency complete assessments which had spent several months piling up in a file cabinet. When I pulled the drawer open, I noticed some were already out of compliance and others would soon follow. I quickly realized I could not dig this agency out of the hole it created. I instantly felt anxious and worried. I contacted my supervisor who replied, “Amelia, this is not your problem. Go to work on time. Work hard while you’re there and leave on time. The fact that they need additional staff will quickly rise to the top. If you try to save them, they won’t take the needed steps to address their problem.”
I’ve carried this sage advice into subsequent work environments. Transferring it into my personal relationships poses a tougher challenge. I think women are particularly susceptible to rescuing others. Maybe it goes back to deep evolutionary wiring telling us if a tribe member is struggling the tribe will die! Regardless, the tribe will not perish if we do not assume others’ problems. I try to enlist people in my life to remind me of this fact. For example, I called my sweet sister a few weeks ago and before I even recounted my dilemma, I told her, “I need you to remind me this is NOT my problem. . .I can’t save everyone. I’m not Jesus.” To each compassionate, yet irrational point I made, she lovingly replied, “not your problem.”
Where in your life do you need to remind yourself, “Not my problem”? If you run around placing oxygen masks on everyone else, and pass out because you forgot to put on yours, THEN you have a problem!
Please forgive the TMI. Yesterday, I endured the lovely experience of my annual well-woman exam. Nothing like being stretched, stuck, and smooshed to say “Happy Friday!” I rewarded myself by visiting my favorite bistro with the plan to order a delicious French pastry. Once I arrived, my stomach rumbled, and I realized a croissant would not stave off my hunger. A glass of wine and a harvest salad with shaved Brussel sprouts, pears, and almonds seemed more in order. Instantly my 17-year-old self chimed in and stated, “You will look like a loser eating alone . . . especially on a Friday night . . .get your dinner to go.” My 40-year-old self interrupted and said, “Hey, dining alone is a sign of maturity and self-care. You never know what might happen. You could meet some interesting people or just enjoy some amazing food without feeling pressured to make conversation when all you want to do is sip chardonnay.”
A magazine rack filled with beautiful magazines donned the north wall of the bistro, so I picked up San Diego Home and Martha Stewart Living. For some twisted reason I love looking at gorgeous homes I cannot afford and craft items I lack the talent to create. I thoroughly enjoyed savoring my wine while flipping through the magazines. When I looked up, I noticed three other solo diners. We held the delightful secret of solo dining bliss. My waitress approached me, smiled, and asked if I found a suitable home. I informed her of the “steeply discounted” mansion that now listed for a mere $7,995,000. We agreed, while the price was a bargain, that we would feel creeped out living alone in such a large house. Yes, our cozy apartments provided a much better sense of safety.
After relishing my delectable salad, I consumed the pumpkin tea cake which paired nicely with my wine. I relaxed in my chair, took a deep breath, and peered out the window into the clear, blue sky. Yes, a perfect date. (Ok, I wouldn’t argue if Scott Foley of Scandal asked to sit with me. However, my solo dining date was exceptional.)
Where are you taking yourself on a perfect date this week?
I recently joined some yogi friends at a trendy all-vegan, organic restaurant. After enjoying delectable appetizers and a few glasses of wine, someone suggested we do a clearing activity. (Hey, what do you expect from a bunch of yogis after wine?) The yogi leading our exercise asked, “What have you not forgiven yourself for?” He added the caveat to only share that with which we felt comfortable (i.e., “don’t share shit that is too deep”). I thought, “can’t we start with an easier question . . .say what is your favorite color? . . .dog or cat person?”
The authenticity of my dinning mates created a sense of safety which encouraged me to share something beyond, “I need to forgive myself for using the last of the toilet paper at work and not telling anyone.” Themes which emerged from our conversation included forgiving oneself for . . . negatively comparing oneself to others, not meeting cultural standards of success, putting one’s self-care first . . . As the sharing continued, I felt more endured to this lovely group of individuals. Hence, my toilet paper response seemed, forgive the pun, crappy. Hence, I took a deep breath and summoned my courage. “I need to forgive myself for feeling guilty about setting boundaries with people who are suffering.” I went on to explain that I have a history of swimming out to drowning folks with life jackets and holding them above treacherous waters. The feeling of saving others feels good. However, in the past, I lost sight that treading water contributed to sheer exhaustion.
Now I’m learning to set healthy boundaries, so I don’t drown in my quest to exercise compassion towards others. I used to think this process was selfish and mean. However, I now know this process is incredibly caring. I cannot help anyone if I’m lying lifeless on the bottom of the ocean.
What do you need to forgive yourself for today my splendidly imperfect friend?
I made the mistake. I had the fortunate opportunity to practice Bikram yoga on a 90% humidity day in sunny southern California. For ten years I effectively tolerated the 105 degree, 60% humidity environment of this yoga. However, this day I entered the studio, unrolled my mat, and instantly transformed into a human water fountain. Sweat gushed from every pore in my body despite the fact I laid silently in savasana (i.e., corpse pose)! The teacher entered the room and announced, “Rise and shine it’s yoga time! I know it’s a hot day, but you’re not going to die in the yoga room.” I stood up and thought, “I’m f*&#ed!” My body boiled. Probably, because I was standing DIRECTLY under the red glow of a radiant heater. Given room was packed with sweaty yoga bodies, I could not escape the heater’s radius. During the second breath of pranayama, my mind raced, “It’s too hot . . .I’m dizzy . . . I have to pee. . . I want to run out of this room . . . what if I run out? . . .I’ve never run out. . .what’s wrong with me? . . . everyone else looks ok . . .this absolutely sucks . . . I should have slept in . . . I will be dehydrated . . .my stomach is on fire . . .why did I eat garlicky hummus before class? . . . breathe . . . breathe . . .breathe.” I eventually calmed my mind. However, my body fought to stand. My stomach knotted and the room spun. I surrendered to my mat until the world stilled. Then, with a big deep breath, I stood up and tried again.
By virtue of our human-beingness, we experience moments of intense emotional pain. We question whether we can tolerate another excruciating second and feel pulled to flee the room. We numb . . . with reality TV (goodness knows I’ve watched way too much Teen Mom), busyness, material objects, and substances. We do everything in our power to escape that radiant heater, because it’s tremendously uncomfortable. We gain momentary lapses of relief only for the heat to blast us squarely in the face. If we surrender and breathe, the perspiration pours from our bodies. The toxins leave, we cool, and oxygen replenishes us. We stand up and try again. When the intensity of the heat overwhelms you, lie down, breathe, and recover. Then, get up and try again. If you run, pain will follow you right out of the door.
If emotional heat has left you face down on the floor, I recommend reading Brene Brown’s Rising Strong. This wonderful manuscript reminds us that signing up to live whole-heartedly involves falling, and she gives us a formula for rising up.
During the 1940’s, many pilots perished trying to break the sound barrier. Sadly, the jets handled differently in the outer atmosphere and would frequently spin. In order to regain control, pilots would jerk the controls in every possible direction in hopes of righting the jet. Tragically, this approach often resulted in crashing and burning. As Chuck Yeager’s rocket-propelled jet transcended the edge of the atmosphere the powerful G-forces rendered him unconscious during a spin. When he came to, his hands were off the controls, and the forces of the universe righted the jet. He communicated this experience to the other test pilots, and letting go of the controls became part of their training. On October 14, 1947, Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in the Bell X-1. Pretty awesome, right?
As a recovering perfectionist, letting go of the controls is incredibly counter-intuitive and frickin’ hard. My mind tries to protect me by rehearsing for tragedy, putting up armor, and getting ready to run. Regrettably, it loves to do this procedure at night when I would much rather be sleeping. Many years ago I served as a fact witness in a legal hearing. I was selected for this “honor,” because my employer felt my skills and speaking ability were well-suited to this task. I performed well; however, the opposite party was not pleased with the outcome and threatened to sue everyone involved, including me. While I knew I had nothing to fear regarding be negligible, I was in the process of applying for another, and very important, position. I feared losing this opportunity. I castrophized and thought of the worst case scenarios, one which resulted in my being homeless. I lost sleep, my appetite, and at times my sanity. I wish I could tell you I let go of the controls and found my peace. Nope, I learned all my worrying did not ward off or produce a particular outcome. Fortunately, the lawsuit never came to fruition, and I was able to secure the job I desired. This outcome still would have happened without my ruminating . . .
Yesterday, I went to a new carwash which required pulling the car onto a platform, shifting it into neutral AND taking my hands off the steering wheel. A warning sign specifically said, “DO NOT try to steer.” I thought, “Humph, universe you’re really testing me on this letting go of control thing, even in a carwash!” I took my hands off the steering wheel, and the conveyer belt pulled my car forward into the washers and suds. Initially, my heart rate increased, and I thought, “I don’t like this.” Then, I took a deep breath and thought, “This is pretty awesome. My car is getting washed, and I don’t have to do anything but sit here and breathe.” What controls do you need to let go of today?
A couple of weeks ago, I nearly sustained a concussion while pulling items off my closet shelf. Ok, this declaration is somewhat dramatic. The cardboard tube housing my Master’s degree (earned in route to my doctorate) fell and bonked me on the head. Yes, I did not bother framing it. I already had a terminal master’s degree and a doctoral degree adorning my office wall. I thought hanging this degree would appear excessively pretentious, “too much.” When I theatrically recounted my tube-clobbering story to a friend, he expressed shock that I let my degree hibernate in the depths of my closet for eight years. He said, “You earned it. Put it up!”
Why do girls and women fear being “too much”? Maybe it’s because we tell little girls, “keep your voice down . . .cross your legs . . . don’t get fat. . .don’t make a man look stupid . . . be nice . . . be sweet.” Simply put – “don’t take up space . . . don’t be too much.” For the longest time I feared anger – others’ and my own. I did everything I could to avoid it; and if I felt anger, I questioned its validity. The messages of “good girls are nice” and “angry women are bitches” deeply rooted themselves in my young cerebral cortex. Now, I realize the value of my voice and anger. When I confided my relationship with anger to a friend, he encouraged me to channel my inner Beyoncé. In 2008 Beyoncé released her album I am Sasha Fierce. During an interview, she explained her persona of Sasha Fierce allowed her to own her power in her performances and dealings in the music industry.
Today, I am making a vow to let my light shine and to channel my inner Beyoncé. I hung up my master’s degree. I give myself permission to be outraged about. . .
My male advisor in college telling me not to pursue a doctorate because it was “too hard”
Equally qualified women earning 78% of what men make
Being verbally harassed by a male security guard, filing a complaint, being told I would be informed of the outcome and never hearing a thing
One in five women being sexually assaulted at some point in their lives
Having dates thinking a good night kiss entitled them to be human octopuses. Too many times I squirmed my way out of these situations and said, “I have to go.” I was nice, and I should have yelled, “Get your f*&ing hands off me!”
Thongs being marketed to elementary school-aged girls
Having an unfamiliar woman at a baby shower ask me if I was going to freeze my eggs since I was in my late 30’s and not married
Young women being told to “be sexy” but don’t have sex
People telling my amazing friend, who suffered a heart-breaking miscarriage, that she was “lucky to conceive”
Growing up in a culture that tells girls they must be thin, heterosexual, married and mothers in order to have value
To all my amazing readers out there, I encourage you to speak up, speak out and let your imperfectly, beautiful light shine! Please feel free to add comments about injustices you no longer wish to be silent about.
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” – Marianne Williamson
While munching from a box of Tagalong Girl Scout cookies, I recalled my Girl Scout cookie-selling days. Notice I did not use the word “fondly” to describe this recollection. I had a short stint in the Girl Scouts. I entered in fifth grade and exited in sixth. The cookie-selling requirement and a budding interest in boys likely contributed to my short-lived career. I’m sure the cookie-selling experience was designed to instill confidence in pre-adolescent girls. All it infused in me was terror.
Let’s step back to my fifth grade year – very bad haircut (mullet-esque), massive overbite, and a growth spurt that left my legs disproportionally longer than my arms. Oh, did I mention I was shy? Hence, I lacked the Girl Scout cuteness and gregarious that equated to high cookie sales. My mother and father were both introverted; hence, they had no desire to assist me with door-to-door sales. Fortunately, my extraverted and cute best friend down the street agreed to accompany me while I pedaled my wares. The sales transactions went something like this . . .
Me: (knock, knock)
Scary Adult: What do you want?
Me: My name is . . . um . . . . Amelia. I am a Girl Scout from Troupe 2818, would you like to buy some Girl Scout cookies?
Scary Adult: What kinds do you have and how much are they?
Me: I have Thin Mints, Trefoils and . . . (with a quivering hand, I unfolded and displayed my order form).
Scary Adult: You mean I have to order and pay for the cookies before they arrive?
Me: Um . . . yes.
Scary Adult: No, thanks. (Door slam)
Me: (Tears start pouring down my cheeks).
Heather: Don’t let her bother you. She’s mean and stupid. Let me do the next one.
Me: (Sniffle, sniffle, wiping snot on my shirt sleeves) Ok.
Heather: (Knock, knock)
Nice Adult Lady: Hello, can I help you?
Heather: Hi, my name is Heather, and this is my friend Amelia, who is a Girl Scout. I’m helping her sell her delicious cookies. She has all types of yummy flavors, and she is selling out fast. We want to ensure you get some too. How many would you like to order?
Nice Adult Lady: Which one is the best?
Heather: All of them are delicious mam. I recommend one of each. (Flashes big toothy grin).
Me: (Gives big buck-toothy grin and holds up the order form).
Nice Adult Lady: Well, then I guess I will order one of each!
Heather: Thank you mam. We very much appreciate your business. You won’t be disappointed!
Me: How did you do that?
Heather: You just have to act confident and people will believe you!
Thanks to Heather I actually earned a Girl Scout cookie patch and a little dose of confidence that year. I also went on to get a better haircut, braces and a growth spurt which allowed my arms to catch up with my legs. I also made a vow that when approached by gaggle of Girl Scouts at the grocery store, I will always buy from the shy one in the corner. Then, tell her that she’s going to grow up to do wonderful things.
For better or worse, we live up to the expectations that we and others set for ourselves. Whenever the doubt of my Girl Scout cookie days creeps in, I remember Heather’s words of wisdom, “just be confident.” Eventually, my thoughts and behavior align with this intention. Where in your life do you need to remind yourself to “be confident”? Who can you enlist for support if knocking on the door alone seems too scary?
I apologize for the tardiness of this post. Ironically, the day I planned to post this blog, I got sick. However, I am delighted to share this piece with you by my dear friend and guest blogger Taylor. My response to Taylor’s piece follows below. Enjoy! ~Amelia
I have lived with back problems for many years. If I am not careful, I can easily agitate old wounds and truly injure myself. Yesterday, I was leading a class on crisis intervention and slipped on a slick floor (And yes, I am aware of the irony in this situation). I immediately knew that the minor slip was going to create some stiffness and pain later. However, I had no idea what the extent of it would be. In preparation for what was sure to come, I went through my stretching routine, took some meds and iced the area of concern.
Only a few hours into a restless sleep, I was awoken by an all too familiar shooting pain in my lower back and legs. I got up, took another hand full of ibuprofen and tried to go back to sleep. With little hope of actually resting, I decided to get up and try to stretch a bit. As the night creeped forward, I could feel the magic of the ibuprofen waning. I went to the medicine cabinet and pulled out the big guns which quickly put me back to sleep for a few hours. When I woke up again, I managed to get to the shower and partially wash the nightly grime off my now stiff and achy body. Toweling off was an exercise in futility as my body groaned at every attempt to bend beyond a few degrees. Breathless and fatigued, I made one final effort to dry and clothe myself. Unable to even get my underwear on, I simply collapsed under the weight of this damp, naked cleaning tragedy.
Now, at this point, I don’t know if it was the stress, the ridiculous nature of the circumstance, or the muscle relaxers, but I couldn’t stop laughing. These were no ordinary run of the mill laughs. They took on a maniacal quality that drenched me in a feeling that was otherworldly. I felt disembodied yet somehow grounded to the moment. Each heaving laugh, was married to a pain so intense, I started to sob uncontrollably. What made this whole situation worse, was that I started imagining what the text would look like if actually had to call someone to help me. “So Amelia, how good of a friend are you? Well, I was wondering if you could come over and pull my underwear up over my bulbous backside? Also, there is some homemade ice-cream in the freezer if you want it. Thanks.”
These are the moments that truly test your resolve. Who did I call on to help me? Well, I called no one. Now this is not to say that my friends wouldn’t have come to my rescue if I needed it(And laughed their asses off as they would have surely retold the story a million times). In fact, the knowledge that support was available was enough to push me into action. I pulled myself up off the floor, kicked off the underwear that was trajectory wrapped around my ankle and went back to bed for 8 hours. I awoke in a bit less pain, but with a renewed sense of resiliency. Even in the toughest of times, we can surprise ourselves with the strength that resides within. Indeed, I had climbed the mountain of Motrin and seen the promise Lumbar support land.
– Taylor F. Alvarez
Had you texted me, I would have come, found myself consumed by your infectious laughter, pulled up your pants and then eaten your ice cream. Why is it that we hesitate to reach out for help during times when it is abundantly clear that we need it and others would love to provide it?
Like Taylor, I too live alone. Several months ago I contracted strep throat. I knew I was in for a turbulent ride when the chills hijacked my body despite wrapping it in a wool jacket and blasting the space heater. Miraculously, I negotiated the last three hours of work, crawled into my car and made my way home. In a zombie-like state, I trudged up the stairs to my apartment, opened the door and collapsed on the couch. Several hours later, I awoke to darkness and the realization I lacked the energy to move from the couch to the bathroom. Tears rolled down my cheeks as my sweet dog licked my hand to say, “I would help if I could.” I prided myself on fierce independence and now I truly needed help. For a few minutes, I threw myself a fabulous pity party. If only my ex-husband had done x,y & z I would not be alone right now. I quickly realized this party sucked and I best bounce before I woke up with a misery hangover. I picked up my phone and began scrolling through my contacts. Relief washed over me as realized I had several amazing people in my life who would come to my rescue. I would only be alone and dejected if I chose to be. I called a friend who graciously brought over coconut water and a thermometer. She also called to check on me the following day. Love is all around us. We just have to invite it in and trust that we are worthy of it.
The year is 1984. I’m lying on the carpet and occasionally pilfering pretzels from Dad’s snack bowl as we watch the Atlanta Braves fiercely lose another game. Watching the Braves bolstered my twice a week t-ball practice and allowed me to hang out with the most important man in my life, Dad. He never complained about me or my sweet sister asking too many questions or the fact we ate the majority of his pretzels.
Me: Why did that guy walk to first base?
Dad: Because the pitcher hit him with the ball.
Me: Why did he hit him?
Dad: It was an accident Amelia.
Me: Do the pitchers ever hit the batters on purpose?
Dad: Because sometimes grown men do stupid things.
Saturday morning rolls around, and I don my Arnold’s Plumbing t-ball jersey, white shorts, black-stripped tube socks and pink Velcro sneakers (hey, it was 1984 ya’ll!). I hop into the passenger seat of Dad’s car, and he lets me shift the gears from first to second and second to third. I feel so grown up and confident that I will successfully drive a standard transmission 7 years from now. We arrive at the baseball field. I grab my glove and bat and run to my teammates. Dad greets my coach in the dugout, takes a seat and pulls out his clip board with a fresh sheet of paper. My Dad assists our coach with t-ball strategy (i.e., encouraging us when we strike out, miss a ball or get tagged).
Given my underdeveloped batting skills (i.e., I whacked the tee more than the ball), my father and coach encourage me to tap the ball off the tee with the hope it would roll ever so slightly outside the dead ball line. My father gives me a high five as I exit the dugout and says, “Remember this is about having fun, A.” (Yep, my inner perfectionist was alive and well in my nine-year-old body.) I saunter up to the batter’s box, plant my pink sneakers firmly in dirt, eye the ball, take a couple of practice swings and then, “tink!” The ball rolls off the tee and slightly past the dead ball line. I’m good! I run like the wind, throwing off my batting helmet for full t-ball athletic effect. Then, I get tagged out. I jog back to the dugout where I find my Dad waiting with a high five and the encouragement of, “way to hustle in, A.” To which I lovingly reply, “It’s all your fault I got out!” Then the tears flow . . .
Dad: A, everyone who plays baseball gets out sometimes. Look at the Braves.
Me: The Braves kind of suck Dad.
Dad: Well, they’re not having the best time lately. A, this game is about having fun.
Me: Everyone plays better than me and can hit the ball.
Dad: A, I’ve seen you hit the ball. You always try and hustle in when coach calls everyone. You always cheer on your teammates. Good sportsmanship is important. Now it’s up to you whether you have fun today or not. Do you want to have fun?
Me: (sniffle, sniffle, gulp) Yes.
Dad: Give me five (We high five).
I am back up at bat. I breathe deeply, focus and “whack”! I hit a grounder that speeds past the short stop. Like a lightning bolt, I round first and land on second. My teammate is up. Jenny is good hitter, so I have an excellent chance of crossing home plate. Sure enough Jenny rockets the ball past the infield. I make it to third but hold tight once I see the right fielder scoop it up and hurl it towards the pitcher. Fortunately, her throw lacks the appropriate trajectory, and I see a prime opportunity to steal home. (Please note: t-ball practice does not include sliding into/stealing bases.) I start running and the pitcher quickly relays the ball to the catcher. The catcher steadily holds the ball in mitt over home base. I am not deterred. I thrust my scrawny arms forward, dive and slide across home. The umpire spreads his arms east and west and pronounces me, “safe!” I get up, brush the dirt off my uniform and see my Dad running towards me.
Dad: Way to go A! Did you learn that from watching the Braves with Dad?
Me: No Dad, the Braves never make it across home. But was that cool or what?
Dad: That was pretty cool A.
Happy Father’s Day Dad. Thank you for reminding me to take myself less seriously and to have fun.
“Yes, I got to have faith . . .I gotta have faith . . . Cause I gotta have faitha, faitha, faith . . . I gotta have faitha, faitha, faith.” ~George Michael
Approximately one and a half years ago life threw me into the churning, 50 foot waves of an emotional ocean. I would come up for air, fill my lungs, only to be hit by another wave, forced under, while the shattering noise of a powerful ocean and gallons of water pushed overhead and held me tight to the bottom. I wanted up. I wanted to breathe. I wanted it to stop. Whenever a wave receded, I came up choking, gasping, spitting up water and reaching for anyone who could keep me afloat. This process happened for months. My tears were a release of all the emotional water I swallowed when I had the safety and space to release it. When they say grief is a process, they are being f’ing honest. The belief which propelled me through this emotional maelstrom was “faith” . . . faith that I would not feel this way forever . . . faith that the universe must have something better in store for me . . . faith there was a purpose in all the crap I stumbled upon.
During the emotional equivalent of Survivor, a friend invited me to a jewelry party. Typically I abhor pyramid scheme companies which utilize “independent consultants” to pedal cookware, make up, vitamins, etc. However, I liked and wanted to support this friend. Additionally, the party had free appetizers and wine, so nothing lost right? . . . I arrived at the party and instantly felt overwhelmed by all the glittery trinkets and charms. My jewelry tastes are simple. . . small, delicate, feminine, can be found in the jewelry section of Target.
I sifted through the trays of beads, baubles and charms until I found Faith. Unlike the other flashy jewels on display, she was simple. A pewter tag with her name stamped in all caps. She knew I needed her — a visual reminder of what I knew in my heart. I paired Faith with a simple silver chain and headed to the checkout station. My friends informed me that Faith needed a pop of color and encouraged me to select a colorful bead accent. Faith and I hung out together frequently during the first few months of my divorce. Sometimes, I wore Faith to bed on particularly challenging nights to remind myself I would feel better in the morning, and I typically always did. I continue to keep a close relationship with Faith, because she always comes through.
If faith feels a little too touchy, feely, Amelia hugs trees because she lives in California, there is psychological support for the benefits of faith. Neuropsychologist Rick Hanson states that our brains are wired for the negative. From an evolutionary perspective, it makes sense our brains would look out for and focus on things that have potential to harm us. Hence, we must teach our brains to do what Hanson calls “taking in the good.” If I have faith that good things are in store for me, and make a concerted effort to notice the good when it comes into my life, then I will feel (insert drum roll here) good. Pretty powerful stuff right? Additionally there is a psychological phenomenon called confirmation bias which states that we look for evidence to support our beliefs. If we have faith that good will come our way, we look for signs to support this belief and if we think life is going to suck we will find plenty of evidence to this effect.
For me faith has a spiritual component, it’s my way of saying, “Hey universe, I don’t get why all this b.s. is happening to me right now. I know it’s a FOG (i.e., F!@#$ing Opportunity for Growth) moment. I’m going to do my best to trust that everything is the way it should be right now and all I have to figure out is the next step.” Boy, this one is hard for me. I want the whole plan including two back up plans in case Plan A or B does not work. I also want AAA emotional towing support for unexpected life events. However, Faith reminds me that I’m OK, safe and loved. There is something bigger and better coming if I can have patience and yield to the universe’s time line vs. mine.
May you have faith.
Learn the alchemy true human beings know.
The moment you accept what troubles you’ve been given the door will open. –Rumi
The scene . . .I arrive early to yoga class and place my mat in my beloved spot. (Yes, I know I should relinquish having MY spot in yoga class . . . desire nothing, suffering nothing . . .another blog.) I situate my towel and lie down in savasana. I close my eyes and focus on my breath. . . until something brushes my arm and the biting aroma of Old Spice highjacks my nostrils. I turn to see a neophyte yogi lying approximately 1.5 inches away from me. I spring up and move my mat a couple inches away. He proceeds to spread his beach towel over his mat and in the process covers half of mine! Does he politely move his towel from my mat. No! My inner perfectionist thought about quickly correcting him, “Hey you! Newbie! Move it to the back row! No beginners in front.” However, this statement was very unyoga-like given yoga means “union” and all that jazz. I discretely scoot his towel off my mat and push my mat flush to the wall. New yogi begins doing a series of stretches that remind me of a 1920’s calisthenics class. He also keeps crinkling his water bottle . . .now he’s snoring in savasana. Holy moly, it’s going to be a long class.
I return to savasana and attempt to refocus on my breath. However, my mind wanders into a bad neighborhood . . . what if his Old Spice only intensifies once he starts sweating? . . .it is heated yoga after all . . . where is his flinging sweat going to go? . . .oh yeah, on MY mat and body . . . . ewww . . .why did he have to put his mat next to mine . . . how did he get past the yoga teacher? . . .why didn’t I do the earlier yoga class?
STOP!!! Let this be a FOG (f$%*ing opportunity for growth) moment . . . If I can tolerate adversity in the yoga room, I can tolerate it anywhere. . . I should show some love and gratitude towards this gentleman. . .It takes a lot of courage to come to heated yoga for the first time . . . he was probably trying to be polite by wearing Old Spice to cover up post-yoga stink. . .I am curious what brought him to yoga . . .I imagine that I’ve encroached on someone’s space in yoga . . . I’m sure that I don’t always smell like roses in class . . . I’m glad my classmates are gracious when I sweat on them and lose my balance and fall into their space . . . breathe in and out . . . send some yoga love to newbie yogi now doing windmill toe touches.
I quickly dash into the bathroom before class begins and come out to find an extremely handsome Marine lying partially on my yoga mat! Obviously, the teacher encouraged an experienced yogi from the back row to trade places with the new yoga student. Yay for the power of acceptance! This yogi, along with the entire class (including newbie yogi), have an amazing energy. We worked as a team in a very hot and humid room to stretch, strengthen and heal. Yoga is frickin’ awesome! After class, I call deep on my courage and approach handsome Marine yogi (HMY). . .
Me: I hope I did not encroach on your space during class. It was pretty crowded.
HMY: Oh no worries. You have a beautiful yoga practice. Your energy kept me from sitting out a few tough postures.
Me: (blushing) Oh, I’m glad I could help. You have a strong practice too.
HMY: Hey, I was going to grab a bite to eat at the market. Would you like to come?
Me: Sure, I was planning to stop by there too.
Ok, the conversation didn’t exactly go like that. It was more like this . . .
Me: It was pretty crowded in there. I hope I did not sweat on you. (Smooth pick up line right?)
HMY: Oh no worries. I was dying in there.
End of conversation.
I love this amusing, little story of how accepting a difficult situation can lead to a positive outcome. However, I own several heart-breaking tales in which acceptance and open doors did not come swiftly. My delay in finding open doors was partially due to staring at closed ones too long. We cannot avoid pain, discomfort and adversity. It is part and parcel of human being-ness. When we resist this pain, it only adds suffering on top of our ache. Accepting an arduous situation does not mean we like it, think it’s fair or deserved. It simply means telling oneself, “Given this is my reality, how do I move through it in a way that ultimately leads to a place of peace and does not cause further suffering?” If you are staring at a closed door right now, be gentle with yourself as you . . . take a deep breath . . . stop jiggling the door handle in hopes it opens . . . find the courage to turn away, and begin looking for a new entrance.
Today I had the pleasure of spending the afternoon with my dear friend and her newborn son, Finn. His funny faces, chipmunk cheeks and coos intoxicated us as we walked him in one of those bad ass off-roading strollers that could take a baby to Everest base camp. During the walk, I contemplated that motherhood is one of the most challenging jobs in the world. What other job (besides fatherhood) offers the greatest opportunity for FOG (F@#$ing Opportunity for Growth) moments? If I have the fortune of becoming a mother one day, my child can simply read my blog and learn about all my imperfections upfront. It will be like informed consent for childhood, “By having me for a mother here are the potential risks and benefits of your upbringing. . .” Who wouldn’t want a mother who knows all the lyrics to “Head Like a Hole” by Nine Inch Nails? Seriously, my child could win a talent show with that one . . . or conversely be sent to the office . . .
We have the “luck” of living in a culture that loves to tell mothers they are imperfect . . .If you don’t breast feed you’re a bad mom. If you give into your child’s temper tantrum in the store and buy the Cheetos, because they will save your sanity and the sanity of all the patrons in line, you’re a bad mom. If you cannot work, keep a clean house, volunteer at your child’s school, exercise regularly and cook healthy meals, you’re a bad mom. If you forget to buy cupcakes for your child’s classroom party, you’re a bad mom. If you didn’t spend hours to develop a creatively-themed birthday party and invite your child’s entire classroom (because all the other parents invited your child to their childrens’ birthday parties) then you’re a bad mom . . . All of the above examples were shared with me by splendidly imperfect, loving and amazing mothers with splendidly imperfect and well-adjusted children.
I feel fairly confident that my mother would agree that she is recovering from some perfectionistic traits. I imagine she could give you a list of the things she wished she had done differently in raising my sweet sister and me. However, in honor of Mother’s Day, I would like to offer a small list of the innumerable things she did right . . .
- When I was seven, I approached her in tears after a friend called me a name. She gently pulled me into her lap, rocked me and told me I could always talk to her if anyone ever hurt my feelings. I continue to take her up on this offer.
- When I was 10, I watched my mom shop for a used piano. She found one she admired, and inquired about the price. The salesman asked, “Do you need to ask your husband if you can buy it.” My mother replied, “I have a full-time job and a husband that does not require I ask permission to buy myself a piano.” Then she gestured for me to follow her out of the store.
- When I was 16, I watched my mother graduate valedictorian of her of university class after 9 years of going to college part-time while working full-time.
- When I was 22, my mother drove two hours after a full day of work to help me find a new apartment, because I, in the naiveté of leasing my first apartment, rented a hell hole.
- When I was 27 and contemplating reconnecting with an ex-boyfriend, I asked for my mother’s advice. She said, “Will seeing him again move you towards the woman you want to be?” She knew the answer was irrevocably “no” but made me come to that conclusion versus giving me the answer.
- When I was 33, she cheered me on as I decided to leave 30 years of living Texas and head to Southern California.
- A few years later, she flew across country on little notice to help me pack up a home that I loved and stage it to sell after my ex-husband and I separated. She wrapped up all my wedding pictures and labeled them, so I could decide what to do with them when I was ready.
- She always reads my blog. (She also read my dissertation, which is an undeniable act of love!)
I love you Mom.
Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers and those that love like mothers!
Yogi: So what are you up to tonight Amelia?
Me: Oh, probably hanging with Frankie on the beach and then staying in for a movie.
Yogi: How long have you and Frankie been together?
Me: Seven years. It’s hard to believe. Time flies.
Yogi: Wow, the seven year itch . . .that’s quite a milestone in a marriage.
Me: (Totally mortified now realizing this yogi thinks my dog is my spouse and further realizing that I talk about my dog like he’s my spouse.) . . . um, yep.
This conversation nudges me, rather violently thrusts me, into the world of online dating. One of my dear friends, Sarah, met the love of her life and soon-to-be husband on a popular online dating site, so I think at least I can find a date or two. I visit lovetownusa.com (ok, not the real name of the website just in case there is really a lovetownusa.com and it’s a disreputable, vulgar “dating” service) and take the bazillion question survey that guarantees I will find the love of my life. Honestly, it takes me three weeks to complete it. Once I finish it, I have the lovely fortune of receiving my “unique personality profile.” In addition to including multiple blanket statements about all my fabulous qualities, it also lets me know about my following “growth edges”:
- Others might be afraid of your “new-fangled” thoughts. (Please send me a comment if anything on this blog appears “new-fangled.”)
- Some people may think you’re wound too tightly and may secretly want to see you lose control or relax a little bit. (Ok, maybe there is some merit to this one given I am a recovering perfectionist. However, I have thrown some very wild living room dance parties in my day . . . maybe I will actually invite others to join me at some point.)
- Some people may be threatened by your openness or find you too much to compete with. (Seriously, why would someone with three graduate degrees be too much to compete with? Did I mention I won a Nobel Prize?)
- People who spend most of their time on themselves may feel embarrassed around you. (Ok, this one means I am super nice. . .and I certainly hope narcissists feel embarrassed for talking about themselves too much around me.)
Yep, reading through these sparkling qualities certainly instills a sense of confidence as I create my profile and upload pictures for male “it will take less than three seconds to determine if you are worth clicking on” scrutiny. Yuck, yuck . . . vulnerability forms a lump in my throat . . . AND prevents me from activating this profile for three months. . . The many crazy book recommendations (e.g. Why Men Marry Bitches, Date Like a Man, and How to Get the Guy) and advice (e.g., don’t tell men what I do for a living, consider freezing my eggs) from well-intentioned folks certainly do not help either.
I decide to take a leap and activate my profile as the calendar speeds forward to “singles awareness day” (aka Valentine’s Day). I upload the lovetownusa.com app to my phone and make the brilliant decision to accept push notifications. Then . . . (insert crickets chirping) . . . absolutely nothing for two days. My worst fears confirmed . . . I am divorced and now undateable . . .I will grow into the elderly woman who dresses her dog in tutus and sunglasses and pushes him around in a dog carriage . . .at least I don’t have to worry about cleaning my apartment or making sure I own cute underwear . . . it’s all over now. . .
Then, I wake up to seven notifications on my phone . . . Jason sent you a smile, Rick, Richard, Ryan, Jeff, Jeffery and Geof want to get to know you better. Instead of jumping up and down like a squealing middle school girl, I feel utterly overwhelmed. I look at Jason’s profile and the thought of going through five more feels like drudgery. How do I keep these men straight in my head? Lovetownusa.com also has the lovely feature of showing you all the people who decided to look at your profile and NOT communicate with you. Why in the hell do I need to know this fact? What purpose does this serve? Enlighten me. I delete the app from my phone, go about my day, go to bed and wake up at 4am with a vulnerability hangover. Brene Brown, vulnerability and shame researcher, made this term famous in her second TED talk. According to dictionary.com, when something is vulnerable it is capable of being wounded or hurt. After going through an intensely painful divorce, entering the world of online dating renders me vulnerable. I call Sarah for support.
Me: I just earned an F in online dating.
Sarah: There are no grades in online dating, unless you found a dating site with which I am unfamiliar.
Me: Is there a way I can do this without being vulnerable? My head hurts. Do you have a cure for a vulnerability hangover?
Sarah: Yes, do that which you fear.
Me: You mean I actually have to communicate with some of these men?
Sarah: Yes or you can just hole up in your apartment with Frankie.
Me: Frankie is safer.
Sarah: True, but Frankie also licks his feet and his butt.
Me: Good point. I will respond to some of these men.
Sarah: You should also reach out to some of your matches.
Me: Seriously? This is so much work . . . I think I would rather go back to middle school and be a wallflower.
Sarah: Hang in there sweetie. I am really proud of you. It takes a ton of courage to step back out there again when you suffered a deep and excruciatingly painful heart break. Take it at your own pace.
Me: Thank you. I love you.
Sarah: Love you too.
I start responding to these men. Lovetownusa.com requires users to go through several levels of “piloted communication” before delving into the world of email. Slowly I find myself getting excited about some of the conversations, thinking I might meet some nice guys . . . it’s fun getting to know new people . . . until one just abruptly stops communicating with you! Unlike a totally normal and rational person, the recovering perfectionist in me tries to personalize my first “email drop.” I try to challenge her critical voice by coming up with perfectly plausible reasons why he stopped emailing me such as . . .
- He got trapped under a heavy object and is doing everything possible in his power to reach his computer to email me back.
- He was kidnapped by aliens.
- He hit his head and completely lost his memory.
- He contracted a flesh-eating virus.
- He witnessed a horrible crime and entered the witness protection program.
- He realized we may be distant cousins . . . two fair-skinned, red-headed, very attractive people . . .it could happen.
- He was killed in a zombie apocalypse.
- The possibilities are endless . . .
I also must cope with being asked on dates! In my neurotic online dating state, I neglect to contemplate what I might do if one of these guys actually asked me out. I initially respond by saying things like, “Thank you so much for your interest in my profile. It’s been fun getting to know you but I think I’m not the best fit for you. I think we’re in very different places right now” (i.e., I’m neurotic and you’re not). Or “I would love to keep getting to know you via email before connecting in person” (this response was often met with an email drop.)
I need a break from lovetownusa.com and decide to turn off new matches while I travel to Texas to attend Sarah’s engagement party. I keep communicating via email with three men and this load feels manageable. Communicating with two of the men feels like “work”; however, I have fun communicating with one of them. He invites me to meet up for drinks to which I agree, then I delay for a week with a lame excuse about a cold and work conflict. However, I realize curling up with Frankie on the couch, while comfy, has minimal power in decreasing my vulnerability hangover. The only cure is to . . . Go.On.The.Date!
In consultation with my fashionista co-worker, I decide on an outfit, get dressed, do the hair and make up thing, hop into my car and head to a swanky downtown bar to meet my date. I step into the elevator and push the button for the bar level, the door opens, I step out, and I see him at the bar. I walk up, extend my hand and say, “Hi, I’m Amelia.” . . . My vulnerability hangover begins to subside. . .
To Be Continued. . .(What can I say? I have to leave ya’ll hanging so you’ll come back to my blog.)
I love the chin up/dip machine in the gym. It is one of the most efficient ways to work several major muscle groups at once. Given I detest weight lifting, but I know it builds strong and healthy bones, yada, yada, yada, I celebrate a machine that shortens my agony. I also love that it contains the “weight assist” stack. I simply determine the pounds I want to subtract from my actual weight and insert the lovely “assist” pin. On particularly challenging days, I place the pin near my exact weight and pull myself up with one hand! I feel like Demi Moore in GI Jane except I don’t have a shaved head or her ripped biceps. Gymgoers standing at least 20 feet away might possibly mistake me for Svetlana Feofanova — a fellow famous red-haired athlete! I do try to challenge myself and move the pin up and pull up more and more of my weight. I recognize muscle building involves pain but some days I need a break from it.
When it comes to painful emotions, perfectionists find the assist pin particularly attractive. Perfectionist assist pins come in all shapes and sizes . . . working long hours, racking up achievements, filling every available moment with something productive, rigid exercise routines, and cleaning. Some assist pin activities can be helpful like distracting oneself from painful emotions by calling a friend, going for a run, or doing something kind for others. Others can prove particularly damaging like numbing out with alcohol, food or excessive sedentariness.
One should not use the aforementioned coping strategies to continuously to avoid painful emotions. Tal- Ben Shahar (2009) highlights that painful emotions need to move freely down the “emotional pipe line” in order to maintain good emotional-wellbeing. When we continuously suppress, ignore, and distract ourselves from painful emotions a clog builds and these emotions remain trapped inside contributing to depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. If we use the “assist pin” over and over again it will eventually wear down, break and send us crashing under our true weight. Hence, we need to challenge ourselves to pull it out and feel, ache, grieve and hurt and know we are human and splendidly, imperfectly built.
At times, we need to put the pin in. Shortly after I separated from my ex-husband the grief permeated my being to the depths that my heart physically ached. I had no idea that a human being could shed such colossal volumes of tears. I recognized that I could not grieve 24/7 and maintain some semblance of sanity. I needed breaks. I needed the assist pin. My “assist” pin included things like a living room early 90’s dance party with my sister, watching really horrible reality TV (so bad I cannot succumb to telling you even though I use a pen name), painting my toe nails radical colors, listening to Nine Inch Nails VERY, VERY loud in my car and yelling “Head like a hole, black’s got your soul, I’d rather die than give you control!,” hot baths, watching videos of cute baby animals on youtube and then . . . I. Pulled. The. Pin. Out. . . so I could work through the pain, build strength and prevent the pin from wearing out. It’s an imperfect process. Sometimes I leave the pin in too long. Other times, I suffer too long under the gravity of my own weight and could benefit from giving myself a break. My wish for all of us is that we can grow in our discernment of when to put the pin in and pull it out.
Many of you likely read about Gweneth Paltrow’s and Chris Martin’s conscious uncoupling on goop.com. Marriage and Family Therapist, Katherine Woodward Thomas, coined this phrase and defines it as, “a break up that is characterized by goodwill, by generosity, and by respect. It is a process that leaves both parties valued and appreciated for all that was shared. . .and it is where two people are really striving to minimize the damage they do to themselves . . . and then to each other. ” Family therapist Dr. Sonja Rhodes notes, “. . . couples confront their irreconcilable differences by looking into themselves instead of blaming their partners. Each partner takes a reflective, conscious stance toward what role he or she has played in the dissolution of the couple. This is actually a pretty radical point of view when you consider that when nearly all people talk about their divorces, there’s always some element of blaming their partner.” In the midst of feeling hurt, abandoned and rejected, it is all too tempting to cling to the ways in which our partners wronged us. The process of turning inward and acknowledging we made mistakes leaves us, particularly perfectionists, feeling terribly vulnerable. Kuddos to those who muster this type of courage.
Public comment disparaging Gweneth for not saying “divorce” angers and saddens me. The reality of divorce is excruciatingly painful even under the best of circumstances. I would have gladly welcomed a publicist to craft a meaningful, positively-framed statement (not to mention flattering photo) to distribute to my family and friends when my ex-husband and I decided to “consciously uncouple.” Given I was deep in the throes of perfectionism in my marriage, I worked hard to make it look “perfect.” We depicted a story-book picture on the outside despite a bed of molten lava bubbling up beneath the dreadfully shallow surface. My ex-husband and I loved each other, lived in an attractive home in a much desired area of town, had good jobs, belonged to an extravagant “sports resort” where I could swim in a sparkling, heated pool alongside former Olympic athletes, and spent our weekends on the beach. By societal standards we had “arrived.” Honestly, we arrived to a place where neither of us were growing and the fear that if either of us stepped towards a more authentic life the surface would open and the lava would swallow us whole. Eventually, the lava came with an undeniable force and power that neither of us could reign in. We fought for each breath while trying to continue the tasks of daily life. Given we painted a false picture to ourselves, family and friends (hell, we had all the happy couple pictures on Facebook) the news of our divorce shocked all those we cared about. I felt like a failure on so many levels and knew confessing my imperfection was the only way to save myself. I called my sweet sister (SS):
SS: Hi Amelia. How are you?
Me: (Violently sobbing) Not good. . . something bad happened with [ex-husband] . . . my marriage is over. I need to be with you. Can I come visit?
SS: Come . . . just come.
I flew across country to my sister and told her the true story of my marriage and wept and wept. Though the pain of this loss permeated every ounce of my being, I felt a weight lift. Now someone knew my anguish and imperfections and loved me deeply anyway. My sister’s love and support gave the courage to commence the daunting task of telling family and close friends about the death of my marriage. I encountered, “I can’t believe this” followed by “I’m so sorry you have to go through this. I love you. What do you need?” I feel incredibly blessed that those I so deeply cared about held my head above water, without judgment, when I feared I might drown.
At times, I still experience shame when I tell people I’m divorced. I try to practice self-compassion and remind myself that 50% of the population, including many people I love, trust and respect are also divorced. To be quite honest, the next person with whom I decide to “consciously couple” will gain a much better version of Amelia than the one my ex-husband knew. She is quicker to admit mistakes, laugh at them, and savor the present moment without worrying about when the sky will cave in. (She also has a splendidly imperfect blog!)
A week ago, a friend of mine mentioned that he and his wife had a “do nothing” day. He explained they took a nice walk, went out to lunch and watched a cheesy movie. I thought, “That sounds really nice,” followed by, “How can you spend an ENTIRE day doing nothing! No plans? No lists?” Recovering perfectionists struggle with “being” vs. “doing.” Marking items off our lists and setting goals instills confidence that we are dedicating every precious minute towards success. However, this approach comes with significant costs including burnout, stress, anxiety, guilt . . . and the list goes on. Honestly, our “in-box” items spontaneously multiply (I think the physics law which supports this assertion involves Avagadro’s Law and some quarks). We may have the cleanest bathroom in the great 50 states; however, the next “to do” task quickly eclipses the temporary moment of elation.
An abundance of research supports the benefits of mindfulness and meditation (i.e., being vs. doing). Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness, as “cultivating attention in a particular area.” Renowned psychologist Marsha Linehan asserts mindfulness enhances our ability to make intentional choices about thoughts and feelings versus acting out of habit or impulse. The first step involves gaining awareness of what your mind is doing and gently beckoning it back to the present moment when it wanders away. My mind often reminds me of my splendidly imperfect dog in a new park. He lopes about, sniffs and explores. When I call, he will gleefully romp back to me for a chin scratch and then dart away to the next distraction. My mind similarly skips and scampers about. Particularly while I lay in shavasana (dead body pose) in yoga. As you fittingly guessed, shavasana requires one to lie still and quiet one’s mind. Here’s how my shavasana typically goes . . .
Mind: You need to take the recycling out when you get home.
Me: Mind, get back here you’re supposed to be in yoga class! Breathe.
Mind: I noticed during hands-to-feet pose that you have a big bruise on your shin and you’re a couple days overdue for shaving your legs.
Me: Shut up! Breathe.
Mind: You need to pick up some more paper towels the next time you’re in the grocery store. You should also check your toilet paper supply.
Me: Mind get back here!
Mind: When is this shavastna going to be over? Oh, the teacher has a really cool ankle bracelet on. Hands-to-feet pose would totally be more fun if I had a pretty ankle bracelet on.
Me: You’re supposed to be breathing and doing nothing else!
Mind: I can’t wait until the yoga teacher announces the next pose. This is torture!
Obviously there is a reason they call it yoga “practice” and not yoga “perfect.” Mindfulness practice is similar to building bulging biceps. You start lifting in small increments and gradually build up weight and endurance. Goodness knows I need more practice stilling my mind, enjoying the present moment and refueling my emotional gas tank! Hence, I decided implement a “do nothing” night. Given I am a recovering perfectionist, I knew better than to set the unrealistic and high-pressured goal of an entire “do nothing” day. I looked forward to my evening of NOT doing laundry, paying bills, etc. I decided to do whatever moved me in the moment . . . UNTIL . . . I received an email from my accountant asking me to review my taxes and return my efile certificate ASAP!!! I quickly thought, “I already failed at do nothing night, and I have not even left work!” Then I thought, “wait, this is a FOG (i.e., f#$%*ing opportunity for growth moment)!” I looked at my taxes as soon as I got home and then did nothing! I left my laundry in the overflowing clothes basket. I ate cereal for dinner (with a banana to keep it healthy of course). I danced to early 80’s songs in my living room and indulged in a cheesy romantic comedy and hot bath. Yep, definitely a FOG moment transformed into SWAG (i.e., Super, Wonderful Awesome Good-enough) moment.
“You might be tempted to avoid the messiness of daily living for the tranquility of stillness and peacefulness. This of course would be an attachment to stillness, and like any strong attachment, it leads to delusion. It arrests development and short-circuits the cultivation of wisdom.”
― Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life
Several months ago, I found myself forlorn and lonesome on a Saturday night. I initially distracted myself by watching Sex in the City, imitating a Bollywood dance video on youtube.com and folding laundry. No bueno. I still felt desolate. Hence, I turned to Facebook for connection (you know this is not going to turn out well right?). Post One: “Thank you to my amazing boyfriend for cooking dinner tonight!” Post Two: “We’re engaged!” Post Three: “I love my amazing husband and sweet apple blossom!” Don’t get me wrong, yay for my friend with a fabulous husband and adorable baby. However, my inner perfectionist spoke up with a vengeance. “Amelia, look at you. You’re home alone on a Saturday night and you have no husband or sweet apple blossom. Everyone else is doing something fabulous tonight and you’re sitting here crying. Pathetic.” (I told you she was mean!)
Why is it that we commonly choose to post our “perfect” moments on Facebook? In her phenomenal work on self-compassion, Dr. Kristin Neff highlights that our culture places too much focus on self-esteem, “how much we are different, how much we stand out from others.” Facebook creates a perfect outlet for us to stand out from and look better than others. If I put up posts of my perfect life for others to see, then I must be doing well. However, Dr. Neff highlights significant costs of trying to boost one’s self-evaluation in this manner. If we fall below perfect, then we feel awful about ourselves. We also run the risk for narcissism. BTW- in the book The Narcissism Epidemic Living in the Age of Entitlement Twenge and Keith highlight this generation is more entitled and narcissistic than ever. Scary. (Note to self. One can lower one’ s risk of narcissism by avoiding social media.)
Given, not surprisingly, my self-esteem plummeted after looking at Facebook, I decided to call my sweet sister (SS).
SS: Hey! How are you?
Me: (Sniffle, sniffle, snotty nose blow) not good.
SS: What’s wrong?
Me: I am home on a Saturday night, and I feel like a loser.
SS: Most people our age are home on a Saturday night. I’m home.
Me: But you and the entire rest of the world are home with a significant other.
SS: Honey, you went through an incredibly painful divorce. Be gentle with yourself.
Me: (Big, pulsating snotty-nose blow) I know . . . (sniffle, sniffle) but I just want a date . . . to know someone thinks I am attractive . . .maybe buy me flowers.
SS: Are you expecting some good-looking guy to show up at your door and say, “hey are you missing this glass shoe?”
Me: Exactly! I would tell him, “Hey, I’ve been looking everywhere for that shoe. It fell into the wrong hands for awhile and got some scratches. I am so appreciative of you returning it. These glass slippers look super cute with my favorite cocktail dress.”
SS: You are amazing and beautiful but life just does not work that way.
Me: I (sniff, sniff) know.
SS: I think it would help you to stay away from Facebook for awhile.
Me: You’re right. Thank you for being such an amazing sister. I love you.
SS: I love you too. You won’t feel this way forever.
I attempted to distract myself from self-critical thoughts by cleaning the bath tub. No luck. I called my friend Steve.
Steve: Hey Amelia! What’s up?
Me: Me, a dateless wonder, home on a Saturday night.
Steve: Amelia, most people our age are home on Saturday night.
Me: That does not make me feel better. I also made the mistake of looking at Facebook during a very low and vulnerable moment.
Steve: Oooh Amelia, nothing good comes of that. What happened to your chocolate cupcakes?
Me: Out of cupcakes. Evidently all my Facebook friends have perfect lives, perfect partners, perfect children and perfect hair. Where could I post, “I feel lonely on a Saturday night and would like some companionship” or a picture of me in my 14-year-old Old Navy flag tee shirt and heart print pajama bottoms?
Steve: You really have a 14-year-old Old Navy shirt?
Me: It’s comfortable. . . That’s not the point! You’re supposed to be empathic. Aren’t you a psychologist?
Steve: We would all feel better if everyone was just f*@#!ing honest on Facebook . . .
Me: That’s it. We need F’ingHonest.com. We could eradicate shame and normalize imperfection! We could increase self-compassion
After this conversation, I reached out to friends and asked for f’ing honest posts. I received the following:
“I am running late for work again. I know my boss won’t care, but I feel guilty.”
“I feel like an imposter in academia.”
“My children drove me crazy today.”
“My husband and I got into a horrible fight.”
“I feel awful because my daughter is afraid to put her head under water while all the other children in her swim class are darting around like fish.”
“I am afraid of returning to the dating scene after my divorce for fear of rejection.”
Shame radiated from these posts; however, fear of being “less than” is universal. Shame and vulnerability researcher Brené Brown emphasizes sharing our shame stories reduces shame. Hence, in this spirit, I added a new page to Splendidly Imperfect Adventures – The Shame Eraser. This page is a safe space for myself and readers to be f’ing honest and to challenge shame. I encourage you to visit this page and say, “take that perfection and shame”!
Splendidly Imperfect Adventures Mantra of the Week: “If you can’t make a mistake, you can’t make anything.” Marva Collins
Ironically, my inner perfectionist reared her ugly head during the creation of Splendidly Imperfect Adventures. Instead of complimenting me on all the technological feats I accomplished in one day, she highlighted everything I could not and had left to do. Prior to creating this website, my most web-savvy maneuver involved developing a Facebook page. I tried Pintrest but failed to “pin.” I tried StumbleUpon and stumbled upon procrastination. I tried Tumblr and did not find a single, flat-bottomed drinking glass. I called my slightly-more-tech-savvy-than-me friend, Steve, and informed him the web building site defeated me.
Steve laughed and then recounted the plethora of mistakes he made when building his website including losing its entire content.
Steve: Amelia, how long have you been working on the website?
Me (exasperated tone): An entire day, and I don’t think it will allow me to post a blog.
Steve: Do you see the add a page option?
Me: Uh huh, but the stupid thing won’t do what I want it to. Maybe I should give Pintrest another try. It would likely be more fun.
Steve: How long have you thought about starting this blog?
Steve: How much did you get done today?
Me: I solidified my domain name, purchased the domain name, created the website shell, opened a Twitter account and tweeted my first tweet and read about RSS feeds.
Steve: You’ve been thinking about creating a blog about imperfection for years, and you set a goal of getting the entire website set up today?
Me: Um . . . yes (gulp) . . . I mean no . . . hey, it’s unfair to use your psychologist powers on me . . .I’m your friend . . . you’re trying to make me engage in self-reflection . . . damn, you’re good.
Steve: Step away from the computer. Step. Away.
Me: (Scooting chair away from computer) but what if I just try the “theme” feature on the dashboard . . .
Steve: Don’t do it . . .back away. Back. Away. Now.
I finally left the computer and subsequently numbed out to Friday Night Light re-runs. What can I say? I grew up in the heart of Texas ya’ll.
Day Two. Every time I inserted text into the “magic web builder program” (MWBP), my webpage went cattywampus. So, the routine went something like this – insert text, cattywampus chaos, undo button, insert text, cattywampus chaos, undo button . . . until I contemplated throwing my computer out the window. I decided the more adaptive response would involve calling MWBP support. Friendly MWBP support representative informed me MWBP is not designed for blogging!!!! Ok, at this point I sincerely wished I responded with, “Oh, look how much I learned. If I ever want to create a simple, non-blogging website in the future, I can easily do it.” Instead I texted Steve, “I hate, hate, hate, did I mention hate, trying to create this website! I am defeated!”
Steve: Ok, talk to me Goose, what is going on?
Me: What is NOT going on is my blog.
Steve: Ok, you need to download WordPress which will allow you to create a blogging site.
Me: How do I do that?
Steve: Go to your hosting account.
Me: Where is that?
Steve: Under your account page.
Me: I don’t have it.
Steve: I’m sure you do. Send me a screen shot.
Me: (Click, send)
Steve: You need to get a hosting account.
Me: Ugh. This is a major FOG (i.e. f@#*ing opportunity for growth) moment!!!!! I want a SWAG (super, wonderful, awesome, good-enough) moment! I want a chocolate cupcake! No, make that two chocolate cupcakes. I’m in pain.
I purchase a hosting account and negotiate a refund for MWBP.
Day Three. I effectively download Word Press and create Splendidly Imperfect Adventures. Joy radiated from my soul the moment I hit “publish” and the fruits of my labor appeared on the world wide web! This type of bliss only comes from failing over-and-over and having a supportive friend help you navigate unanticipated boulders. Thank you, Steve.